“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis observed, espousing the idea that transparency is good for democracy, because it exposed conflicts of interest. Which is why every president since Richard Nixon has made his tax returns public. It’s not so we can see how much they make or what their effective tax rate is. Rather, it’s so we understand whether they have financial interests that might conflict with governing for the public good. Indeed, some financial conflicts aren’t just awkward, they’re illegal under the Emoluments Clause of the US Constitution.
Every president has done it, that is, except for the current one, which is a problem because of the broad foreign interests he controls. So today, I went to a Tax Day Rally on Cambridge Common, joining with thousands of others to call for the release of the president’s past tax returns, in full. I have to admit, though, it was a mixed affair. There was a menagerie of progressive speakers, each calling for action for affordable housing, prison reform, climate action and more. There was even a speaker calling for New England’s secession from the United States. He was booed, for what it’s worth. The highlight may have been an activist choral group who called themselves, wait for it, Vocal Opposition. Hah!
Ironically, while I was at the Tax Day Rally, I got an email from my tax accountant who had my own draft tax return ready for review. It wasn’t good news. If I become president, I promise to show it to you.